Tue 24 Apr 2007
from the expressions on their faces, can you tell which of these beautiful people (each of whom share half my genetic material, oh yes) is traipsing off to London tomorrow?
yep, it’s the one with the lip on. kids sure are ungrateful these days.
my mother, aside from a trip to Disneyland in 1961 – the exotic Technicolor souvenir of which i spent my own childhood covetously poring over – has never been outside of Canada. has never been west of Ontario. has never, in fact, left the Maritime provinces (check us on a map, we’re small) since i was an infant, which i assure you was long, long ago. she got travellers’ cheques for the four hour trip to Halifax once.
when i was a kid, we didn’t travel. my mum and i lived where i do now, in this small self-styled capital ‘city’ of Canada’s smallest province. unlike nearly everyone else in said province, we had no relatives in “the country”…which means anywhere more than fifteen blocks from home, in this town. so we seldom left town. when we did, it was so my grandmother – who learned to drive at 69 but feared left turns and speeds over 30 kilometres an hour – could visit her friends at their summer cottages. which were a half hour outside town. that was my idea of a long trip, until i was about thirteen.
i always hankered for movement, for the worldliness of travel, the freedom to wander incognito in far parts of the globe. from long before i left home at seventeen, i dreamed of Europe and the other mythical locales of my western-centric literary education (read: Europe + Katmandu + Istanbul-which-is-half-in-Europe-anyway) like my friends dreamed of hockey players or Sting. i figured Sting was in Europe, along with David Bowie, and if i just got my jailbait ass over there, they’d naturally swoon for my obvious songwriting talents and take me on as some kind of junior concubine/muse/partner.
i was almost twenty-nine before i actually got to Europe and found that aging rock stars are harder to find and woo than one might expect. but i enjoyed myself anyway. and i loved Istanbul. i never got to Katmandu but spent a good four years checking out pieces of Asia while on holiday from my incredibly sweet four-months-paid-vacation gig as an English professor in Korea. i have no retirement plan, true, but i have passports full of stamps from places that were once magic on a map to me, and i consider that a fair draw. i’ve flown around the world four times. i’ve sung off-key Maritime ballads in a pub in Ireland. i’ve studied in the Swiss alps. i’ve backpacked through Turkey by myself, for a month. i’ve stood naked on a balcony in Bangkok at dawn. i’ve lived, by any standards that the thirteen year old i once was would have respected.
but it makes me wonder, as we prepare to take Oscar along to London and Prague three days after his first birthday…what, then, will he hanker for? all this freedom, so long-awaited and hard-won, for me, site of my identity and rebellion against the parochial insularity and “why would i go anywhere else? this is God’s country” attitude of the place i grew up and the poverty i grew up with…what will it be to O but normality?
he’ll never remember this trip, except through photos. more than that, it will in a sense take his “travel virginity” forever…the long wait to launch himself on the world will not be his experience, his particular fantasy, his goal to work toward and shape himself around.
just as it was never my mother’s, and never will be, no matter how i encourage or offer.
i suppose my longstanding wanderlust is a generational signifier, and maybe a class one, or both, and more. as i’ve been packing and finally ticking off the list in my head of things that Must Be Brought in order to make travelling with a one-year-old less daunting to my otherwise fearless self, i’ve also been clearing room for excitement. London. Prague. the words are shiny in my mouth, and i can taste them. i am beside myself, suddenly, with anticipation…like i’ve won the lottery. we are travelling tomorrow. this is my childhood dream of adult life come true (minus the rock stars, yes. but still. my own Dave is quite cool. and our friends in Prague have a band.)
neither my mother nor my son are ever likely to know this feeling…not quite like this. it doesn’t taint it. but it makes me wonder. and it makes me write.